Alternatives to Using Pesticides in Schools

The principles behind indoor and outdoor pest management are the same. Focus must be placed not simply on killing pests (or weeds), but eliminating the conditions that brought them about in the first place. For example, on playing fields, plants like dandelion, knotweed, and plantain thrive in highly compacted soil where pH is unbalanced. An herbicide could kill these weeds, but aeration and adjusting to a soil test will prevent growth in the future. Likewise, pests like ants can make their ways into classrooms through uncaulked windows in search in food in trash cans. A chemical could kills these ants, but more pests will continue to make their way inside unless the window is caulked and trash is kept in bin with a sealed/tight-fitting lid. For the vast majority of pest and weed problems, given non and less toxic alternatives, it is unnecessary to put children’s health at risk.

The Outdoor Environment

Beyond Pesticides promotes the use of organic land care (OLC) in outdoor areas where children play. This approach is a problem-solving strategy that supports the cycling of nutrients that nature has already put in motion. It is a ‘feed-the-soil’ approach that centers on non-synthetic fertilization, including soil amendments, microbial inoculants, compost, compost teas, and other microbial food sources. In addition to site inspections and pest population monitoring, OLC focuses on pest prevention methods, such as habitat modifications, mechanical and biological controls, and cultural practices including but not limited to effective mowing, watering, aeration, overseeding, and other nonchemical methods.

Conventional, chemical-intensive turf and landscape management programs generally focus on using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and continually fail to read the weeds in a landscape. But weeds are only the symptoms – not the root cause of pest problems, which lie in the soil.  Cutting edge organic land management techniques reveal that hazardous chemical inputs are not needed to maintain beautiful landscapes. And experiences from school districts across the country are showing that these alternative practices can effectively and economically replace the use of toxic pesticides.

See Beyond Pesticides’ Lawns and Landscapes page for more information and resources on organic land care.

And watch Irvine Groundkeeper Rick Morse, Facilities Maintenance Manager for the Irvine UnifiedSchool District (IUSD) recount his experience implementing an organic land care program at his school district, which was overseen by Beyond Pesticides Board Member and turfgrass expert Chip Osborne. Recorded at Beyond Pesticides 36th National Pesticide Forum

"Irvine Unified School District's Pesticide Free Playing Field Transition"

The Indoor Environment

A strong pest management policy is one of the best ways to minimize or eliminate children's exposure to pesticides while at school. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a term that is used loosely with many different definitions and methods of implementation. Beware of chemical dependent programs ‘greenwashing’ by masquerading as IPM. These programs won’t emphasize non-toxic alternatives, often turn to chemicals first to mitigate pests. To differentiate between strong pest management policies and greenwashed programs, Beyond Pesticides has embraced the term “Ecological Pest Management” (EPM) as it better represents the focus behind the conceptual approach. Some, but certainly not all IPM programs will follow this conscientious method.

EPM is a program that includes pest identification, monitoring, record keeping, the setting of action levels, pest prevention, management, and evaluation. These practices offer the opportunity to eliminate or drastically reduce pesticides in schools, and to minimize the toxicity of and exposure to any products which are used. Education, in the form of workshops, training sessions and written materials, is an essential component of an EPM program - for everyone from administrators, maintenance personnel, cafeteria staff and nurses to parents and students.

Learn about model practices to protect children where they learn from the following workshop presentation:

"Housing and Schools - Organic Land and Structural Pest Management"

From Beyond Pesticides 37th National Pesticide Forum in New York, New York. Featuring: Andrea Mata, senior manager, Community Health Initiatives, New York City Housing Authority, New York, NY; Erin Johnson, urban farm service corps, Green City Force, New York, NY; Patrick Pizzo, EdD, assistant superintendent for business and finance, East Meadows Schools, East Meadows, NY; Patti Wood, moderator, executive director, Grassroots Environmental Education, Port Washington, NY

See Beyond Pesticides’ definition of an EPM (or strong IPM) program here.
See here for an analysis that will help you define IPM to prevent ‘greenwashing.’